May 24, 2017

Homeschool Review Crew: The Typing Coach

Typing is a vital skill these days. My kids all spend a lot of typing on a keyboard, however, mostly they "hunt and peck" and none of them have a really good grasp of actual typing. This is why I was happy to get a chance to review The Typing Coach Online Typing Course from The Typing Coach.


The Typing Coach

The Typing Coach is an online program (as you can probably tell from the name, huh?) but also requires you to have a word processor. You will also need to print off pages for your child to work through the lessons.

The Typing Coach is an incredibly simple program. We have used a lot of different typing curriculum and they all seem to have some sort of gimmick to keep the kids' attention. The worst ones were the ones with games involved. The kids didn't learn much typing but they certainly had fun! (did you catch the sarcasm font?) The Typing Coach is not like that. It is not flashy or showy or gimmicky. 

However, it is by far the most effective method we have used. By. Far. 

First, it starts at the very beginning, assuming your student knows nothing about typing at all. There are seven lessons and the first one is called Good Posture. In it, the kids learn how to sit at the keyboard, where to put their hands and that they need to look at the info they are typing, not the keys and not the screen. 

After that, they start with the Home Row and learn each row in turn, finishing up with the numbers. 

The method is simple. First, you print off the written part of the lesson. Then you sit yourself properly at the keyboard and start the lesson. This involves listening to the audio instruction and doing exactly what the instructor (David Kimball) says. There are also videos to watch scattered throughout the course to further explain.


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For the purpose of this review, I had my two youngest do The Typing Coach. They are ten and eleven and are used to working fairly independently. I printed off the paper part and they took it from there. The site was easy for them to navigate because it is all on one page and they had no trouble figuring out what to click when. Once they started the lesson, they could simply follow the audio instructions. 

They could work together, or individually. We started out together, but as Daniel progressed more rapidly than Abbie, they soon started working alone. 

The lessons consisted of them opening their chosen word document, starting the audio and working away. He gives step by step instructions that are easy to follow. He even tells them when to take a break.

At the end of each lesson, there is a series of three tests where errors are counted. Once you finish these tests with no errors, then you start the next lesson. 

You are supposed to advance at the pace of one lesson a week. But you are also not supposed to move on until mastery has been achieved, so my kids did not go that quickly. (This is also why Daniel moved ahead of his sister.) They just kept repeating the lesson and taking the tests until they had error free tests. This was not a big deal for them at all. They were pretty matter of fact about it and were so happy and proud of themselves when they did pass the mastery test!

There is also the option of slower paced lessons for younger or special ed kids. 

To be completely honest, I did not expect my kids to like The Typing Coach. It is not a fun program. There are no games. No speed drills. No excitement. No entertainment. However, after I got them set up and they knew what to do, they dove right in and enjoyed themselves! I think they realized they were actually learning the skill. Or maybe they just were not distracted by the usual frills that come with a typing program. Whatever the case, they eagerly went to work every day and I usually had to tell them to stop practicing and move on to their next school subject. 

Even though we are not finished with the course, they both have shown marked improvement and are very proud that they no longer have to look at their hands. They might even be just a little bit better at typing than their older siblings! That's motivation!!!

Here is what they have to say:

Daniel: I liked it because it taught me how to type and how to type fast! I liked it because it was easy to use. I recommend it to people around my age. 

Abbie: I like it because it helps me learn typing better than the other typing things I've done. I wish he would talk faster when he is telling you what letters to type so I can type faster because it doesn't feel challenging enough. 

I also liked the program and loved that they learned so much! I liked that it was not teacher intensive. We still have time on our subscription so they will finish up the program as "summer school" and my older two kids will have a go at it as well.

In short, if you are looking for a program that teaches your child (or adult, or you!) to type, The Typing Coach is for you! 


The Typing Coach Online Typing Course {The Typing Coach Reviews}
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May 23, 2017

Homeschool Review Crew: Pencil Grip

My kids love to paint. Well, three of them do anyway. But while I love to see them create, I'm not always fond of the mess that follows. You know what I'm talking about... the drippy paint brushes, the cups of weirdly colored water, the dribbles of paint on the table, the dabs of paint their faces, the smeared hands, the tattered old table cloth that holds more impressionistic art than most museums. Not stuff that most moms greet with excitement.

Thin Stix by KwikStix

That's why I love reviewing for The Pencil Grip, Inc. This time we got a pack of Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors and the kids set right to work making masterpieces.

Thin Stix by KwikStix

Kiwk Stix are markers that contain non-toxic tempera paint. Our set, the Thin Stix 6 pack, has six markers in the colors of green, brown, red, black, blue and yellow. Just pull of the cap, twist up the tube of paint and create! The color glides on smoothly and dries in ninety seconds leaving behind a brilliant color. 

We have reviewed the basic set: Kwik Stix 12 pack before and have found the Thin Stix to be the same fabulous product except with a finer point that made drawing details much easier to do. Kaytie (age 14) could even write with them and achieve pleasing results. Since the inability to put in fine details was one of our frustrations in our initial review, we were very happy to see that this was true!

Here's a comparison of the two markers. The Thin Stix is on the right.


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The beauty of these paint sticks is that your child has no need of a paintbrush or cup of water. They work like a marker. You just take the cap off and draw away! It dries almost instantly but the finished work has the texture of a painting, not a drawing.

While your child still needs some exposure to and experience with old-fashioned brushes, Thin Stix are perfect for for times when your child wants to paint and you don't have the time or energy to deal with the mess. 

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All of my kids, from age 14 to the 3 year old we babysit have a great time painting with Thin Stix. We mixed ours with our basic set and had lots of fun!

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A warning... we had no problems with wiping the paint off the table and chairs. We did learn, however, that a toddler can absolutely NOT be trusted with Thin Stix on his own. Yes, he can still make quite a mess if you aren't in the room to stop him. On the plus side, the paint came out of his shirt quite nicely in the washing machine. 

Langston's picture (age 3):

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Abbie's picture (age 10):

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Kaytie's picture (age 14):

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Daniel's picture (age 11):

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And I (age undisclosed) did our school mascot:

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There are a few things that we noticed that I feel I should tell you about.

  • the paint really, truly does dry in 90 seconds
  • because of this, mess is not an issue, I touched my picture immediately after application and got nothing on my finger
  • because of this, it is easy and fun to layer colors over each other
  • however, because of this, you can not blend the paint
  • you also can't get a lighter application of color with less pressure, you get one shade only
  • lighter colors don't layer over darker colors well
  • unlike markers, the caps do not fit over the back end for easy storage while you work

In my opinion, Thin Stix are a great thing to have in your art cabinet! They are perfect for quick creative times. Older kids can use them entirely independently with fast and easy set-up and clean-up. Younger kids can get them out and put them away on their own and even the little kids can use them with only minimal supervision. 

Kaytie: I like that they are easy to control and that they dry really fast. What I did notice while I was using them was that occasionally they would be gloppy, I would wind up with tiny, dry, blobs of paint on my painting. But I could actually rub for awhile and make it eventually go away so it was just kinda annoying. I think they are great for small children. And it's an interesting and fun medium for older children to work with as well. I would recommend it to any artist of any age. 

Daniel: What I like about them is that it is much easier to control them and make finer details than with the regular ones. 

Abbie: They are easy and fun to use and I only wish I had more colors. 

Langston: I paint more, please?

We all highly recommend Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors! We are pretty sure you will love them, too.

No Mess Art with Thin Stix Classic Colors {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}


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May 21, 2017

The Face of Summer

We are officially done with school for the year! Be on the lookout for posts about next year coming soon!



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May 18, 2017

Homeschool Review Crew: Captain Absolutely

I am a literary snob. So it was a shock and a disappointment to me when I realized my kids love comic books. They call them "graphic novels" as though that makes it better and they use their precious library card space to check them out from the library. It boggles my mind.


Thankfully, they don't care for the "dark" comics, but I still worry a bit about what all they might be exposed to as they read. So I was happy to be asked to review a comic book from Focus On The Family. And my kids were thrilled to get a chance to devour Captain Absolutely. It was a win/win for us.

 Captain Absolutely

I have known and loved Focus On The Family products for many years. I used to listen to Adventures in Odyssey over twenty years ago. It was a blast from the past to see that a citizen of the imaginary town of Odyssey, USA had developed a superhero. 

Wooton Z. Bassett (helped out by some real life people) wrote Captain Absolutely as a serial for Clubhouse Magazine. And now those comics are compiled in one thick, 100+ page book for your reading pleasure.

Soft-cover, with glossy, full-color pages, the comic book tells the story of how Josiah King and Darren Gray meet up with a fateful accident one night in the library. A combination of two friends, a sunflower seed, nuclear power, and one "spectacular explosion" simultaneously creates a superhero and a bad guy. Josiah is trapped in a room full of Bibles and toxic fumes and becomes "Captain Absolutely! Defender of Truth, Justice and Lots More Truuuuuth!" Meanwhile Darren is trapped in another room with philosophy books and toxic fumes.  He becomes the evil villain, Dr. Relative. 


After he "survives his origin story" Captain Absolutely goes on to fight Dr. Relative and many more villains: Farmer Vile; Cap'n Crastin; Baron Von Confuser; Edward Snooze; Sloppy Joe and others who threaten Metropolitanville with fear, unforgiveness, confusion, and, of course, relativism. He fights, not with violence, but with Scripture and Biblical truth.  Scripture references are sprinkled throughout the story so your kids can look them up and see what the Bible says for themselves.

Humor, in the form of puns and silly jokes is also sprinkled quite liberally throughout the story. The kind of humor that made my kids and I both laugh even while rolling our eyes a little bit. The kind of humor that every kid eats up with a spoon.


In the back of the book is a list of the cast of characters (including his teenage side kick, Hana Lin). Each character has a short bio, and a list of "stats", including their worldview, biggest problem, and a Bible verse.

And finally, the book has two pages of Big Questions, or discussion starters you can use with your kids to get them to delve a little deeper than the fun and the humor.

In spite of this being a comic book I was happy to have a chance to review Captain Absolutely. As I said, my love of Focus On The Family goes way back and it's great to be able to hand my kids a medium that they love without any concern on my part. Although the humor was a little cheesy, it was not the dumbed-down holier-than-thou fare that Christian reading consisted of when I was a kid. 

I also liked the tie-in with King Josiah and the story of him finding the lost book of the law (the first five books of what we now call the Bible) in the temple. He wept and repented and promised to follow the law from  then on. And he did! He became a sort of Captain Absolutely by destroying idols, eliminating corruption and rescuing kids from being sacrificed! 


All four of my kids devoured this comic with zero prodding on my part. Since they are comic book experts, I thought I would give you their opinions.

Kaytie: I enjoyed reading Captain Absolutely. I liked the basic theme of it: Truth. God's Truth. It was a little too fast paced for me because I like more in-depth stories. But it was very funny. I kind of liked the style and the way the stories were set up. I liked the method he used to introduce the villain, and I liked the way the characters themselves were constructed and developed as far as the writing is concerned. I would like to read more books like this!

Nate: I liked the story. It's like a normal comic book but modified to reflect a Christian basis. I think it is a quality book and I would love to read more. When I got to the end I was like, "Is it over already?"

Daniel: I liked it because it was a good comic book. It has a good story line. I liked that Captain Absolutely quoted a lot of Scripture. It was really funny. My favorite part is where the bad guy holds up the mirror and Captain Absolutely pretends he sees the future and then takes the mirror away! That was funny!  

Abbie: I liked it because it was a comic book. It was different because usually in comic books people don't read the Bible. I liked that the Bible was a part of the story. It was funny in parts. My favorite character was Hana, the sidekick. I think any kid who likes comic books will like Captain Absolutely. And I would love to read more! The only thing I disliked about it was that it was too short!

So there you have it. We "absolutely" loved Captain Absolutely and "absolutely" recommend it!

Captain Absolutely {Focus On The Family Review}

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May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day

These are my people. They redeemed Mother's Day for me. They made me a mother and they give me so much joy! I am incredibly proud of these people. They are kind, smart, funny, caring, lovable, generous, thoughtful and all around thoroughly great kids! I love them and am so grateful to be able to be their mom!

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May 9, 2017

Homeschool Review Crew: High School Essay Intensive


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It amazes me that my oldest child is looking high school squarely in the face. She even has already gotten some credits under her belt. This is the child that loves to write, but only stories. She thinks reports and essays are boring, so she tends to forget to do them. I, on the other hand, realize that this boring type of writing is actually the necessary type of writing, so I was pleased to discover that Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) offers a program for learning to write essays: High School Essay Intensive.

Institute for Excellence in Writing High School Essay Intensive

This program consists of DVDs (this content is also available for online streaming), a portable wall, and a student packet.

The portable wall offers the student easy access to:

types of essays
essay models
essay writing process
essay writing strategies
sentence pattern variety
specific models
transitional words and phrases
prepositions

It also has a pocket for holding the student packet.

The student packet is twenty-five pages. It is simply papers stapled together and is for the student to use to take notes on as they watch the DVD. The copy write allows for you to reuse these sheets for additional students within your own family, but not to share with other families or to copy them for an entire class.

The bulk of the program is contained in the DVDs. There are five of them and they come in a handy black, leather holder.

The first two DVDs are part one and contain:
General Strategies for Essay Writing: length; structure; invention and style

The second part is
Understanding and Preparing for the New ACT Essay

The third part is Understanding and Preparing for the Redesigned SAT Essay

The last part is
Strategies for the Personal Essay

The different parts do not have to be done in any particular order, you are free to choose the part (or parts) that will benefit your particular student.


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For the purpose of this review, I had my daughter (age 14 and just finishing up 8th grade) work on part one: General Strategies for Essay Writing.

This was very simple for her. She watched the DVD, notes in hand, and just followed the instructions from there. Pausing the DVD, writing out the assignments and then watching again. The course is taught by Andrew Pudewa, a very engaging instructor. My kids think he is funny, which makes them want to listen to him.

She learned about the general types of essays, the types of paragraphs and how to organize them, what the TRIAC outline is and how to use one, and figures of speech.

Kaytie said: I learned why essays are important. I think the most important thing I learned was how to gather subtopics for your essay and how to organize my thoughts. I found out that I liked doing the prep work for essays. The white boards were hard for me to read what he wrote on them. Otherwise, he held my interest well. I feel like I learned a lot. I liked having the notes there because I'm not used to taking notes and this helped. I really enjoyed the Portable Wall as well, it was nice to have the helps there whenever I needed them.

I always enjoy using Institute for Excellence in Writing materials and this one was no exception. I feel like she learned a lot about essay writing in general. In the near future, I will have her use this to learn to write her SAT and ACT essays. I am looking forward to using this with all my kids.



High School Essay Intensive {Institute for Excellence in Writing Reviews}
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